Chocolate Tour and Making Our Way to Playa Samara

Sadly when we woke up this morning we had our last breakfast at Volcano Lodge and Springs. This place has been awesome. The rooms are great. We have spent so much time at the pool and hot springs. It was actually sad to leave but there was excitement to travel to another part of Costa Rica.

This morning was relaxing because we didn’t have anything planned until 10am and we went to bed fairly early last night. I woke up and packed. Then I sat on our patio for a bit. We went to breakfast. The breakfast here has been great. We are definitely going to miss that since we are going to a house and will have to fend for ourselves now. After breakfast we decided to check out the little trail behind our room. There wasn’t much there, but we were happy to see that the ants are back in front of our place. It’s just cool to see them working and carrying these flowers to wherever they are going.

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The ants travel this same route so often they have made a path.

We checked out of Volcano Lodge around 9am and headed to a chocolate tour. Chocolate and coffee tours seem like a popular thing to do here and we found this place last night that looked cool so we decided to check it out before we leave the area. It was called Don Olivo Chocolate Tour. When we got there it just looked like someone’s small house. The property turned out to be very large as it expanded far behind the house into several orchards of fruit trees and a plethora of Costa Rican crops and plants. Our tour guide was named Minor and he was great. This is a small family owned farm started by Minor’s grandfather, who we learned had passed away not too long ago. Minor’s father was also there. The first thing we did was make sugar cane water. It was sweet and very tasty. We placed stalks of sugar cane into a grinder which then poured out into a pitcher. What was interesting was that the cane was extremely heavy at first but after squeezing out all the water it became paper light. The property had all sorts of plant life: papaya, mango, bananas, pineapple, medicinal plants, and of course cocoa. We were able to try lots of different fruits. The tour was really informative. Minor spoke about the history of the farm and some of the struggles they go through. He also pointed out many birds and wildlife.

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Making the sugar cane water. This grinder had a crank that squeezed the cane through a grinding press and drained into the pitcher.
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Papaya. This was a huge papaya grove on the property. Interesting fact, is that the papaya fruit has a defense mechanism  that causes it to bleed when the skin is injured. The liquid that it bleeds will irritate and burn human skin. Harvesting is done with gloves and carefully. Even throwing the fruit around will cause the liquid to spray around.
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Pineapple. Minor’s father cut a fresh Pineapple for us and we ate it. It was delicious.

Probably the coolest part of the tour was actually seeing how chocolate is made. He explained that the chocolate we taste from the stores is nothing like theirs. Most mass produced chocolates are made with a lot of additives and chocolate substitutes. Once we tried it we understood what he meant. Real chocolate is only made with two ingredients – cocoa powder and sugar.

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Real Chocolate comes from the cocoa tree. This is a picture of the Cocoa fruit. In Costa Rica, there is a fungal disease currently affecting Cocoa Trees, killing approximately 30% of the yield through “black rot”.
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Flowers from a cocoa plant.
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Once the cocoa fruit is hand picked from the tree the seeds are removed and put into a bucket to ferment. You can smell the fermentation process at work. I believe the seeds only ferment for 4 days. No more, no less.
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Next the seeds are dried in a greenhouse. Once dried, the seeds are ready to be sold to manufacturing companies. Most Cocoa farms only take the process to this state. Minor’s farm however goes a step further as their cocoa only goes to local restaurants and only 1 or 2 big customers.
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Next the cocoa seeds are roasted
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Then the cocoa seeds are put in this grinder that cracks the shells.
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When the seeds are ground up the shells are left behind. The best way to separate the seed from the shell is by picking them up in a bowl and letting the wind carry the shell away as you pour the seed back into the container.
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Next the cocoa seed is put into another grinder in order to ground it up into a fine powder. This is done twice in order to produce a very fine powder.
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This is ground up 100% pure chocolate. It smelled great but the taste was very bitter.
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By adding brown sugar, a substance more like the chocolate we all know can be made. This is 90% cocoa, 10% sugar. It tasted much different than the mass produced chocolate we normally eat which is usually made with many other ingredients and most of the time with zero real cocoa.

After we tried the chocolate Minor and his father made us hot chocolate. It was good; a little hard to drink because it was an extremely hot day. We finished the tour around 11:30 and we were ready to get on the road for Playa Samara.

About an hour into the ride we stopped at the German Bakery for lunch. We had seen a ton of signs for this place on the way to Arenal so we decided on the way out we should check it out. It was called Tom’s Pan German Bakery.  The lunch here was great. I had the bratwurst sandwich. Kelsey had a sandwich also. Don had a meatloaf that came with an egg. The food was really good, and the German beers were huge. . We didn’t try any of the bakery items although they also looked good. Just take a look here. We really enjoyed this place and it was definitely worth the stop

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After lunch we drove about 3 more hours to Playa Samara. The changes in landscape were pretty cool. It definitely looked a lot dryer. Once we got close to Samara we started looking for Casa Papaya, our beach house for the next 3 nights.

It was pretty easy to find but it was up in the hills a bit. I kept thinking I did not want to drive up here at night. When we finally got to the house we tried the code for the gate to get in and it didn’t work. We tried it so many times. The owner, Sharon, was out of the country for our stay so we had a contact named Melissa that we could call in case of any problems. So we called her and she didn’t pick up. We had directions to her office in town so we got in the car and left. It was already close to 5:30 so I was nervous we would not see her. We made it to the office and me and Kelsey went inside. We looked lost and this woman asked us if we needed help. I said “yeah we are looking for Melissa.” She told us she was Melissa, so we explained our situation. We went into our office and after about 20 minutes of making phone calls we got the codes we needed. We went back to the house and got in. We found out the old owner, which I had been in contact with earlier, lived up on the hill further. She came down to assist us and she did not seem happy Melissa bothered her to get in the house. But oh well, we were finally here.

The house looked ok. There were a lot of ants and flying ants and Melissa explained it had just rained for the first time in over 100 days so there might be more bugs. It was a little concerning but I hadn’t seen any spiders so maybe it was ok. I didn’t really see any mosquitoes either. We heard a noise outside and Melissa told us those were howler monkeys. I couldn’t wait to possibly see them in the morning. The place had a nice looking pool and patio area with a grill so we planned on maybe grilling out the next evening. Casa Papaya also has another house on the property that can be rented called Casa Mango. It’s a bit smaller and no one was there right now, but we were told someone would be there later in the week. After Melissa left we got settled in and decided we should go to town to eat because we had no food, only beer.

We went out to eat at a Mexican place in Playa Samara called Coco’s Mexican Restaurant. It was pretty good, just average Mexican food. We walked around a bit then we stopped at a sports bar for a drink. We went back to the house and decided to all hang out in the living room. There were more ants and flying bugs. There were a couple of geckos that were making crazy noises. We never knew they made noises! They chirped. We had some beer and played War. We tried not to focus on the bugs. So far though no spiders. Now it was getting late though and we wanted to try to sleep….but things were going to get much crazier…and that will be in the next update.

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